In what officials are calling the “Summer of Kittens,” mountain lions enjoyed an historic population boom in the mountains scorched by fire near Los Angeles nearly two years ago.
Thirteen kittens were birthed by five cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills between May and August.
The National Park Service reported Wednesday that it was the first time this many mountain lion dens have been found in such a short period of time during the 18 years biologists have been studying cougars in this region. The previous high found in one year was four dens.
If you’re still in need of more kitten cuteness this morning, take a peek inside P-65s den. 😻#kittenpalooza-Ranger Ana Beatriz
Posted by Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on Wednesday, September 2, 2020
“This level of reproduction is a great thing to see, especially since half of our mountains burned almost two years ago during the Woolsey Fire,” said Jeff Sikich, a wildlife biologist who has been studying the mountain lion population at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
“It will be interesting to see how these kittens use the landscape in the coming years and navigate the many challenges, both natural and human-caused, they will face as they grow older and disperse.”
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Biologists track the mothers’ movements via telemetry and visit the dens when she is off hunting for food, feeding or just resting. In less than an hour, the biologists perform a health check, determine the sex, take measurements and weights, obtain biological samples and place a numbered ear tag on each of the kittens, to help identify them in the future. All are returned to the den before the mother returns.
Litter 1: A 4-year-old mountain lion known as P-54 gave birth to males P-82 and P-83 and female P-84; this was discovered on May 14. The suspected father is P-63, one of two male radio-collared mountain lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Litter 2: On June 19, biologists discovered P-19, whom they have studied for 10 years, had given birth to females P-85, P-86 and P-87. It was her fifth litter.
Litter 3: On July 6, biologists found that P-65 had birthed a female and two males, P-88, P-89 and P-90. The likely father is P-54, who spent three days with the mother in March. It’s believed to be P-65’s first litter.
“This three-and-a half-year-old cat was one of the 11 mountain lions the park service was tracking when the Woolsey Fire broke out on November 9, 2018,” the park service stated. “She survived the fire and maintained her home range within the overall burn perimeter, although we know from tracking data that she has been utilizing smaller unburned patches within it.
“On August 21, 2019, she became the second radio-collared female mountain lion to cross the 101 Freeway and move northward into the Simi Hills. She later crossed the freeway again on November 6, 2019 and returned to the Santa Monica Mountains.”
Litter 4: On July 7, P-67 was found to have birthed female P-91 and male P-92 in Simi Hills, marking only the second time biologists have discovered a litter of kittens in this area. P-67 was originally tagged as a kitten in 2018 in Simi Hills to mother P-62.
Litter 5: Finally, on Aug. 6 biologists learned that P-80 gave birth in the Santa Monica Mountains to P-93 and P-94. They estimated that the kittens were 32 days old. The likely father is P-63 as he traveled with the mother for four days in early April. P-80 also “had her kittens within the Woolsey Fire perimeter but in an unburned area in the southeast corner that still supports healthy mature chaparal,” the forest service stated.
The National Park Service has been studying mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002. It does so to determine how they survive in a fragmented and urbanized environment.
Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.